A short little story about my novel characters again, mostly about being a kid that doesn’t quite fit in.
By the time Zouriel had emerged from the chill of the concrete building’s excessively air conditioned interior the heavy clouds had more or less dispersed and the only evidence of them ever being there were the numerous puddles on the ground. The sun still warmed his back as he walked down the cracked sidewalk, taking care to avoid being splashed by passing cars, in too much of a hurry for this time of day. Soon enough the winds would begin to blow from the north, the sun would grow dimmer and the long winter of misery would begin again for him. Now…Now he could push the weather aside and instead mull over the grim faces as they went over his performance review. The word “disappointment” had never been mentioned, but he could see it on their faces and that brought a chill running up and down his spine.
He had this terrible itch inside that told him that he would not want to be seen as a disappointment. Wherever they sent him off too next, he sensed it would be ugly and he knew he’d have to make them happy.
Stopping to light a cigarette, more of a guilty pleasure these days, he forced himself to remember that he wasn’t flying solo anymore, he had Oy to be responsible for. Could he really bring the kid along, to God knows where? His first school year had only just started and he had a feeling the administrators wouldn’t like having a child pulled from class for…What the hell could he even tell them?
“Well, sir, I am a black ops agent for a secret branch of the US military and I have this guy i have to kill over in Teheran…”
Zouriel let out a snort, smoke pillowing out and up into the sky. Yeah, that wouldn’t fly any day of the week.
He pushed his worries to the back of his head and tried to focus on more mundane things, like whether he had to stop by the local supermarket before he went home, or would Oy be okay with pancakes for dinner. Zouriel knew there was a box left in the cupboard, as well as eggs and milk in the fridge.
Turning the corner, side stepping to avoid an overturned trash can, Zouriel was faced with the familiar grey faces of the buildings that fronted his own street. Boarded up shops of those who had already given up and the remaining few that still kept the lights on. He absentmindedly waved to the elderly couple who ran the local newsagents, then dug through his pockets for enough change to pay for a couple of candy bars and the local newspaper.
When he ducked through the narrow alleyway that led into the inner courtyard which fronted his own apartment building he heard a child’s voice, singing in a low voice and loud splashing. Oy was half marching, half skipping in front of the buildings entrance, hitting every puddle as he went with a loud splash.
“Is school out already?” Zouriel asked, as he approached the boy. Unsurprisingly Oy’s shoes were soaked, as well as his pants up to the knee.
Zouriel hurriedly stubbed out his cigarette, he knew Oy would tattle too Cass about him smoking, and an angry Cass was something he did not feel like dealing with. She would scream at him for hours over the phone, loud enough to annoy the neighbors.
“Why didn’t you use your key?” he asked the boy, who was not rocking back and forth on his heels.
“I didn’t want to…” Oy began. “I wanted to wait for you.”
“I guess that’s fine”, Zouriel sighed. “You didn’t have to get your good pair of shoes wet though…”
Oy didn’t respond immediately, which felt odd to Zouriel. He was used to the kid being a real chatterbox, commenting on anything and everything, this silence was unnerving.
Unnerving, but rather welcome at the moment, allowing Zouriel to sink back into his own ruminations for a while, as the two entered the building and took the elevator, working for once, up the ten floors to his apartment.
“So…How was school”, Zouriel heard himself ask, as he unlocked the front door.
Oy mumbled something, let out a sigh, then added a drawn out “Okay, I guess…”
At the back of Zouriel’s head he felt sirens go off.
“Well, it’s always hard when you’re the new kid…” he began, digging deep to think of the right things to say.
Oy mumbled something inaudible in response and proceeded to violently kick off his shoes, which made wet, slapping sounds as they hit the wall.
Zouriel could not deal with this, with whatever problem was going on, landing square on top of all the other shit he had to worry about but…Shit, there was no one else around to poke at the kid until he spilled what was eating him.
There hadn’t been anyone who’d really tried to poke at him when he was Oy’s age and having trouble…
He stopped the boy until he could escape into the kitchen, already making a beeline for the fridge.
“Alright, Oy, you’re going to tell me what’s going on here”, Zouriel said. “Is school too hard, is the teacher mean or is someone mean to you?”
The last words had barely had time to fall from his lips when Oy seemed to crumble up like a pile of dirt in a rainstorm.
“The other boys were saying I look weird, that I’m just a stupid white boy pretending to be like them and all the girls were giggling at me behind my back and then at recess one of the boys pushed me and I almost turned into the cat and I was scared cause I thought that would have made it worse…”
Zouriel had gone to school in a nicer area, but he had seen the kids that ran around the neighborhood here. Tough kids with parents from all over the world, while Oy…
Cassandra swore up and down that Oy had to have blood from down way south of the border. “Ocelots are South American and it always runs in the bloodline, like how I got the Okapi from my dad’s African side of the family.” She’d say.
Though Zouriel noticed that very same creature had blessed Oy with his baby blue eyes and that messy dirty blond-brown hair, both of them features that didn’t look especially Hispanic.
Zouriel mulled over his words, the right words he’d never gotten to hear when he’d been teased and pushed around in school, while he started on the pancakes. Oy had finally retreated into his ocelot form, huddled up like an overly large housecat on one of the chairs as he watched Zouriel work.
“You know…” Zouriel began. “The kids gave me a tough time when I went to school too, cause of how I looked.”
He gestured for his washed out grey-brown hair, the shape of his one remaining eye, all he had left of his father.
Oy let out a sound that was half a sigh and half a feline murmur.
“I mean…I guess I’m not someone who should be telling you how it’s all going to get better and shit, it didn’t get better for me…”
He bit his lip, whisking the batter hard enough to make it spatter.
“But….Well, I mean, that doesn’t mean it wont get better for you”, he said, peering over at Oy. “Kids can be mean, but they get meaner when they see that you’re scared of them.”
He pulled out the skillet and turned on the stove as he mulled over his words, chewing on his lip thoughtfully.
“I bet not all the kids are teasing you”, Zouriel said carefully, as he added a scoop of batter to the sizzling skillet. “If bet there’s at least one or two who are just hanging back to see what’s going to happen.”
Oy was suddenly there at his side, tugging at his pants like he’d done when he was a few years younger.
“There was…that other boy…And a girl. They always sit in front of the class…”
Zouriel felt his mouth curl open in a smile.
“I bet they wouldn’t mind if you went up and talked to them…Maybe ask about school work or something. It’s always the smart kids that sit up in front.”
‘I sat up in front’ echoed inside Zouriel’s head, but he silenced the thought.
He felt Oy’s grip remain on his pants as he plopped the first pancakes on a plate and gently nudged it at Oy.
“If you have allies, the dumb kids won’t cause any more trouble”, he said, peering down at Oy and his very blue eyes.
“Safety in numbers”, he added. “It’s always nice to have someone there to back you up when it gets rough.”
Finally Oy smiled, shuffling over to the table with his pile of pancakes.
“Safety in numbers…” he repeated thoughtfully. “Kind of like us and Miss Cass then?”
The boy had a mouth full of pancakes, his messy hair lit up by the setting sun streaming through the dirty kitchen windows. Zouriel felt warmth and fondness for the boy spread through his chest, an aching for his own lost friends and loved ones riding on top of all these new feelings filling him up.
“Yeah…” he said, placing some more pancakes on a second plate. “Kind of like us.”
“Then I’m going to try”, Oy said, chewing. “Those other kids look pretty nice.”
Zouriel could only hope and pray that Oy would succeed where he had failed.
The kid really deserved to be happy.